Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A farewell and a new start

This was my first attempt at a blog. I didn’t really start it with any overarching theme or intent. It has always been rather fluid and that has allowed me to bounce all over the place in what I wrote about. When I look back at all that took place over the last few years, some of which I blogged about here, it’s amazing to think through all the changes that God has brought about for my wife and I.

When I started it, I was serving regularly at the Refuge of Hope in Canton. Then it was on to Light of Christ Church in Waynesburg, which was a congregation with whom I was able to have my first interim pastorate. Next it was on to finishing seminary, which of course was constant through really all of these different seasons. Then, there was of course the amazing, exciting and life-altering time of becoming a father! Lately, I have been thinking through and writing about church planting, which is something that God may be calling me towards.

When I started to write about church planting, I changed the title of the blog to display a passage that God has laid on my heart in relation to planting, “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 2:5, ESV). Really for me all of 1 Peter 2 has been this reoccurring passage that God keeps bringing me back to in relation to how I have been thinking about  the question, what is the church? The question of whether planting is what God is calling me towards is still out in front of me and we are still very much in the learning and praying season. However, we are entering into an exciting opportunity that I am hoping God will use to bring clarity and affirmation about what is next for us. God willing, I will be starting an internship/pastoral residency of sorts with Alpine Bible Church in December. It’s a long story as to how we got hooked up with them, but God seems to be all over it.

Along with that new opportunity, I am hoping to get a bit more disciplined in writing. It is something that I enjoy doing, something that helps me process things as they come along and hopefully is something that is beneficial to someone. I have noticed the limitations of Blogger and have contemplated in the past switching to Wordpress. Well, I made the jump. Consider this the final post of this blog. I won’t be transferring any old posts from this blog over as I will take this opportunity to start fresh. My new blog will live at As of right now, you won’t find much there yet, but I will be working in the coming days and weeks on getting that blog set up.

Many thanks to the faithful few who have actually read my blog! Check out my new one if you get a chance.

Blessings in Christ!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Highways and The Hedges - People Aren't Just in Cities

I have been thinking about this post for a while and finally today as I was browsing through some of the blogs I commonly visit, I decided it was time to write. I will do my best not to go into rant mode, but know that I am on the verge. If you pay any attention to the church planting movement that is really sweeping (in a good way) across the Church, you have probably come across someone making some reference to cities. So the following phrases or mantras (as they have seemed to have become) are probably familiar to you:

- reach your city for Christ
- loving your city
- mission focus for your city
- bringing the Gospel to your city
- cities are where culture is created
- cities are where people are
- transforming your city
- millenials are moving to the city
- and on and on

As people commonly do, I am matching these statements, perspectives, "stats," visions, missions and procedures with my experience and it's not all clicking. I live in a small town with a bit less than 2,000 people in it. The school district I am in is made up of three communities for a total population of around 5,000 people. I do not live in a city. We attend a church that meets in our closest city, but as far as cities go, it is small. I am largely surrounded by rural and suburban areas in all directions. I am no sociologist or demography expert, but I would venture a guess that there are plenty of other areas like mine throughout the United States. If these other areas that I am assuming exist have a church culture similar to my community, then there are no mega-churches and/or even any churches with a mega-church hangover or obsession. There are approximately 25 churches within my school district, which means if everyone attended church evenly across all churches, there would be about 200 people at each church. (As I have previously mentioned in an older post, only about 22% of the population of my district attends church within our district). What does a pastor do with all this city talk in an area like this? What do all the other pastors that I am assuming exist do with all this city talk?

One response is to take what is good and apply it as best you can to your context. This is the approach that I have primarily taken because I read and listen to many of the guys in this camp: Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chander, Tim Keller, John Piper, Alan Hirsch, Matt Carter, and many others. I like what these guys have to say for the most part, I appreciate their hearts and I appreciate what their ministries are doing for the Church. However, you reach a point when trying to make city-focused ecclesiology work in your small town, rural or suburban context just doesn't completely work. That's because rural areas, suburban areas and small towns are not cities. Everything moves at a different pace. People live there usually by choice, meaning they don't live in a city by choice either due to their vocation or some other reason. Yes, I said that there are people living in small towns, suburban areas and rural areas. These people need to know and be transformed by the Gospel just as much as people in the city. They have a culture that needs drenched in Christ just as much as the city does. They have real problems, real sin, real brokenness and real needs just like those who live in the city.

Another response that I have not seen many take, particularly for those in positions of leadership is to write, teach and build paradigms for small town ecclesiology. This is a real need. I am not saying that no one has ever written on this, but there is not much newly written material on this subject. Go talk to any pastor of a small church in a rural, suburban or small town context and just listen to them. Listen to them share their struggles they face that are directly linked to the nature of their contexts and cultures. I have had the privilege of getting to speak at a few of the churches in my area and each time I talk to the pastors of the churches I just want to give them a hug. I have never met men more committed yet beaten down by their vocation. These pastors all want the same thing at their core, which is for people to know and walk with Christ. They want to see their communities changed by the Gospel. However, they are tired and it doesn't seem like they have too many people in their corner. I know that is common for pastors in general, but from my experience it seems like it weighs heavier on these small town guys. There is such a need for leadership, new writing, teaching and vision for what church looks like in these types of areas as the world changes. We can certainly learn from the city guys, but when it comes to focused ecclesiology and mission in relation to context and culture, it is a different conversation.

There are things that we really cannot argue in this whole debate. People will not stop living in rural areas, suburban areas and small towns. Even though many from my generation are moving to cities, which I think is great, every person is not doing so. Churches will not ultimately vacate those areas either. The Gospel has not, needs not and will not change whether we are talking city or more rural contexts. A different message is not needed for either context, but what is needed is a way to understand both contexts better in light of the unchanging message of the Gospel and boldly proclaim it. The city guys are hammering away at this very well, but we need more focus on the rural/suburban/small town context. City people and thus cities are not more important to God than all others. I think we have to be careful that we don't paint this picture as we talk about the strategic importance of cities for changing culture. We should be careful in not seeming to elevate the importance of city people. Also, should we spend lots of time thinking about strategy? Does God have a strategy to carry out His will? I am pretty sure He just speaks and it happens. The Spirit blows where it (He) will. Can we really say that an infinite God has a strategy or goals? Doesn't such language or concepts really only fit with finite creatures like us? So if we are following and serving an infinite God whose "strategy" really is His will which is what governs all else, shouldn't we be focusing on His will and not our strategies? In all of our machinations in strategy in any context, let's be careful not to be so arrogant as to not let God be God.

This past Sunday I was invited to preach at Justus UMC and I spoke on Luke 14:12-24. Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet to a house full of Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. He basically says in the parable that the Jews have rejected the Messiah (Him) and the Gospel will be presented to the Gentiles as well. In the parable He speaks about a party that was given, but all the invitees made excuses as to why they could not come. So the master throwing the party tells his servant to bring in the lame, blind and poor off the streets. His servant does so and there is still room. So the master tells him to go out into the highways and the hedges. John Calvin describes these people as the "common people." And Matthew Henry describes it as "the country" and the people as "the vagrants." Preaching on this passage made me think of my community made up of common people who live in the country (at least as would be described by those in the city). These people need compelled to come to Christ just as is mentioned in the parable He tells. It is interesting in the parable that the only people that need compelled to come are those that the servant has to find in the highways and hedges. It seems to me that one could surmise from this parable that there is a different approach to be taken to non-city people. Therein lies the need for books, conferences, focus, teaching, leadership and communication about what that looks like to do church in rural/suburban/small town contexts in the year of our Lord 2013. I love the city guys and frankly there are many things about cities that I love and thus there are many reasons why I would love to live in a city, but for right now Jesus has us in a small town as He does many others. Perhaps you could consider this a call to the Church in small towns, suburbia and rural America to begin to connect and communicate what things look like from our perspective, what our needs are and what struggles we face as we seek to serve the Lord in our context.

Friday, June 28, 2013


I consider myself a relatively patient person, but I really hate waiting. I know that doesn’t really make any sense. But waiting is the worst. I hate waiting in long lines at the grocery store. I hate waiting to pass someone on the road because the car in the left lane is deciding to go as fast as the car in front of you that you want to pass. I really hate waiting for websites to load. How did we ever live through dial-up? I hate waiting for my food when I’m hungry. When I was younger, I hated waiting on my parents to tell me if I could do something. I hated waiting to get my license and waiting to be allowed to actually drive. Obviously, this is really nothing new for me and you may be able to empathize. You probably feel the same way about waiting. Therein rests the tension that I think many Christians find themselves in as they go through the process of growing in Christlikeness. We are progressing in something, but really we aren’t that great at it.

I have been trying to read through the Bible in a year this year with the Faithlife app (which I love by the way). I am currently in the Psalms and literally everyday there is some mention of “wait” in what I read. It has been one of those things that I noticed for a few days, but didn’t really think much about it. Then one day I was reading and thought, “huh, I wonder if God is trying to tell me something?” When that clicked it was like all these other pieces started coming together. For example, several months ago my wife text me this verse:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.
1 Peter 5:6 ESV

I didn’t really think much of it that day other than the fact that it was a good verse and I appreciated my dear wife sending me encouragement. However, now with this new theme of waiting that God seemed to be screaming at me, this verse took on an entirely new meaning to me. Has God been trying to tell me this for that long? Have I not been listening for that long? In that verse from 1 Peter, it reminds me that there is humility in waiting on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord requires us to put aside our plans and give ourselves over to what God would do with/in/through us.

There is a way to wait on the Lord without really waiting. You simply tell yourself that you’re waiting on the Lord, but continue with your plans at the same time. I have wondered before what the Israelites thought at the Red Sea as the Egyptians were coming and Moses basically says he is going to go talk to God about it. I imagine they did not come running up to the water, Moses lunged ahead 300 style, dipped his toe into the water and boom, the sea parted. There is an element of continuous action in the story as you read it, but I am sure it took a bit of time. The Israelites had a choice, as they did in numerous other times as is recorded throughout the Old Testament; they had to decide if they were going to really wait on the Lord even if it felt maddening to really trust and just wait. You can read more about it in Exodus 14.

I find myself in a similar maddening place. I tend to be a doer by nature. I am really always looking for the next thing to do, always thinking towards the future, towards what’s next. So as I am in my current situation I feel like I can’t wait any longer; I can’t take any more. I am discontent with where I am and that I am not where I am not. I spend my time thinking through ways to move towards the next step. I know in my head that things happen in God’s timing and I know that God takes His time because He is more concerned about what He is doing in me, than what He may do through or with me. There are days when I just want to tell God, I have had enough of this, I am ready to move forward. Let’s do this God! In His kindness, He allows me to go on and on about this.

What’s funny though is when I start to see that things could start moving forward and things could start to happen, I get scared because it feels so real. The reality is, is that a call from God to serve Him in ministry is terrifying. The terrifying part is that there is responsibility for His people. It is that terror that brings about hesitation in me. However, as some friends reminded me this week, God will prepare me and be with me when it is time to move forward. This time of waiting is for a purpose. Anna and I have some healing to do from past ministry experiences. We also have some things to get right in our discipleship. We have to spend some time praying that God would give us clarity in what He would have us do and then joy to go and do that.

A call from God isn’t just terrifying. If my only response to what I thought was a call from God was terror, I should probably get some counseling and/or reassess some things. A call from God is also so incredibly exciting. I get so pumped to talk about it, to dream and imagine what God might do. It is motivating because as you start to develop a heart for a people, you start to think about what God is planning to do in/with/through them. It is also very peaceful to have a call from God, even if it isn’t quite clear yet. Knowing that God is working on bringing you to your specific purpose in His kingdom is so reassuring and chock-full of shalom.

I should be looking more to my wife for help on how to wait for God’s call to come to fruition. She received a very clear call from the Lord that she was to quit her job and be a mother. She had never considered or wanted to do either before that point. She had to wait a year. Every single day she wrestled with not yet being where she knew God was calling her and then finally one day, the time came. She quit! Just a few weeks later we found out we were pregnant with Nora. For that year, my wife was such a display of patience and incredible faith in the Lord especially as she made the scary decision to step out and do what she had been waiting so long to do.

If you are in a place where the word from God right now is “wait,” I feel your pain. God is doing something in us in that waiting that He has to do to get us to the place He wants us to be. You should probably be asking my wife, as should I, on how to really wait and stay in the fight against impatience, pride and fear. As my friend reminded me this week as well, waiting doesn’t necessarily mean not to do anything; it is more of a spirit of waiting. There will probably be steps to take in this time. God give me the strength to trust you and to know that you know what you’re doing.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In Food We Lust

We’ve all said it, “I really need to lose some weight.” Well, I have found myself saying that quite often lately, so I figured it was time to do something about it. I am just about 29 and I work in an office, so I am seeing my metabolism slow and my pants get tighter. Anna and I decided to do Weight Watchers together and let me tell you, it is miserable at first. It was miserable because I was so hungry for the first week or so. I found myself sitting at work grumpy that I was hungry and wanting to go eat a candy bar. I have literally had dreams about food pretty regularly since I started the diet. I admittedly have never really taken part in a legitimate fast, though I have fasted from certain things at different times. Therefore, it is rare that I choose not to eat or drink something. Being a young guy, I have always been used to just eating whatever I wanted and never really having to deal with any consequences regarding my weight. Yet, I believe those days are coming to an end.

I have come to the conclusion that I worship food. When I am stressed or bored, I eat. When I eat, I eat too much. I have no discipline whatsoever when it comes to what I eat. I would happily eat ice cream for dinner and not think twice about it. It got me thinking that so many people struggle with food and the inevitable weight loss issues that go along with food. I know there are legitimate issues that people have in which they struggle with obesity. However, many seem to be quite obsessed with weight loss for a time, then fall off the wagon, binge on food, gain all the weight back and then go through it all again. That cycle is very similar, if not identical, to the struggle that others have with substance abuse or other addictions. Food is an addiction for many.

It is bizarre to think that the very thing that so many in the world go without is that which so many Americans binge on and to which they are addicted. In the church, we are pretty good at talking about idols and addictions; however we tend to focus on the really dark ones. We don’t really talk about food as an idol or as an addiction. Partially, I think it may be because when the church talks about health it tends to drift into weird health and wellness gospel bologna. I think the rest of the reason why the church does not talk about it is because we are all pretty much in the same boat as gluttons. How could we not be? We live in a gluttonous culture.

One of my mentors and dear friends is probably the only voice in my discipleship speaking to me about fasting. When we dine with them, I have admittedly been taken aback at the extremely small portions they eat. When he talks about food, he talks about feasting and I am usually left thinking, “that wasn’t a feast.” My family knows that for every holiday I usually end up lying sprawled out on the floor groaning because I have gorged myself so much. I highly doubt my friend ever gets to that point. Lately I have started to think my friend is not so weird in his eating habits and is actually quite Christ-like in his approach to food and drink. Then again, being Christ-like in anything is weird in the world’s eyes. The X-factor in all of this is discipline and he has attained that through fasting, which of course is a spiritual discipline. If he were talking about it, he would say that fasting is the one discipline where we can say “no” to something in order to say “yes” to Christ. I pray that through this experience of dieting, I can begin to experience discipline in Christ.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Christ in the Corporate World

I currently work in a "secular" job for a Fortune 500 company and I'm a Christian. I put secular in quotes because I think a common misconception by Christians is that there is such a thing as secular work. People that think this way usually view their pastors or clergy, as they may call them, as the only people that do any type of ministry work. I mention that I am Christian because according to my faith in Christ I am to be a certain type of employee, which is a part of my overall calling to be a certain type of citizen and a certain type of person. The Christian faith calls us to be a certain type of people; a distinct people. Yet, we are obviously not so distinct that we do not have normal jobs or associate with anyone.

Before I worked where I currently do, I was a cook for about five years at an Italian restaurant. If you have worked or do work in the restaurant industry, you know that it can draw a very interesting and diverse crowd of employees. It was while I was in that job that I became a Christian and at that time I never thought that I would be in a more challenging work atmosphere to share and live out my faith. While my current work atmosphere is really nothing like the restaurant, I have found an entirely new set of challenges in sharing and living out my faith at work. The corporate world presents a veneer of professionalism, ethics and propriety, but the reality is that the guts of the day-to-day in a corporate job can be quite challenging. There are a myriad of moral conundrums that come your way in an office. A conversation about an employee's development can quickly turn to gossip. What is commonly referred to as "office politics" is really just a nice way of saying sinful backbiting and malicious chatter. For many, there are the struggles regarding the opposite sex from either direction. Single people try to navigate the dating scene while at work, which often ends in some unfortunate, awkward position to be forced to work with an ex. Married people can unfortunately fail at upholding their covenants of marriage while at the office. Let us not forget that just because it is a corporate job, that does not mean that the workplace is not filled with people. Those people of course have lives outside of work and usually those lives can be quite messy. It is in this mix of challenges and struggles that people find themselves in a corporate job.

I have sought to try to understand how to live out my faith among the people with whom I work. I have found that it really all comes back to integrity. You can have the Christian flag up and once people are aware of that, the way they watch what you do and say is now through a certain lens. They want to see if what they know of Christianity holds up with how you live and work. It doesn't matter if what they know of Christianity is completely correct or not, they will judge for themselves based on what they know. If you are given the privilege of having their permission to speak up a bit on what it is you believe and most importantly on who Jesus is, you are given an opportunity to add to and potentially correct their outlook on Christianity. The great thing about seeking to truly live out your faith at work is that it is true picture of what discipleship is all about. Soul winning and getting decisions for Jesus flies out the window and the long haul of walking through all the elements of life with other people begins. It is where evangelism and discipleship comes together and it is where you learn that those two things were never and should never be separate. It is where you can come to understand that the Great Commission wasn't and isn't about making converts, but about making disciples.  Living out your faith at work is not some add-on to the Christian life that you can choose if you would like, but a realization of the fullness that the Christian life actually is. It is meant to encompass all of your life.

As I have come to understand what it is to be a Christian at work in a deeper way particularly over the last year or more, it has changed the way I have also understood why God has me where He does. In that journey, a friend gave me Tim Keller's new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work. I read it in a little over a week and found this great collection of so many themes and concepts that I had only started to discover, only Keller of course as he usually does had thought through and connected all these themes together wonderfully. Soon after I had a conversation with my manager about the book and asked if I could have an optional meeting during lunch with anyone in the department that would like to read through and discuss the book. It was approved and our group consists of about seven people. The conversations have been great and I think there is future potential to dig into some other books and discuss those together.

The lesson here Christian is that your job at (insert company) or in (insert profession) is a ministry, plain and simple. You do not have a secular job. God has you in the particular job you are currently in for a particular reason and the sooner you realize that and begin getting after that reason the sooner you will stop grumbling about your job all the time and begin living in God's will. Your thing at work may not be to start a book discussion group, but it may be to listen to your coworker who is losing their parent to cancer. It may be to visit your coworker who is sick. It may be to rejoice with your coworker who just had their first child. It may be to pray for your coworker and/or to ask them how you can pray for them. It is about being there, letting them know who you are and preparing yourself to be available. I have learned more about being a pastor here at my job then I did in my year and a half as an interim pastor for a small church. That interim pastorate helped me see some of my weak areas and God has provided me with a space in my job to improve in those weak areas. You don't have to be Ned Flanders at work, but you do have to love Jesus and have that be evident in your life. Your coworkers don't need you, they need Jesus, so everything that you do is about imaging Christ to them; showing them who He is by how you are.

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you,the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:27-29 ESV

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Raising kids in Christ

My last post talked about some church attendance stats for my community. I mentioned in that post that I had other information about my community from the research that I did, so I wanted to share some more of that here. Today's stats have to do with youth. Anna and I have been a part of churches that put enormous amounts of effort into the youth of the congregation and community, unfortunately at times to the detriment of the older generations. We have also experienced churches that have put too much emphasis on the older generations and nearly ignored youth altogether.

What about the state of youth in the church in the Fairless school district? I can't fairly say how each church factors youth into its vision, but I can say that no church that is located within the district has a youth pastor on staff. There is a church in our district that does have a pastor that is dedicated to youth, but their youth program meets outside of the district. This church isn't doing anything wrong by meeting outside the district, they are simply following the vision they have for reaching youth. Also, to be fair, there are numerous good people within my district that are volunteers who run youth programs in their churches. However, many of the pastors I have spoken with said that they don't have too many youth in their churches. In fact, the age group that makes up the majority of the congregations in my district is age 60 and up. Some of the churches are only made up of people in that age group, which unfortunately means that unless something changes, these churches will be without congregations in 15 - 20 years or less.

So my question is why are there not that many youth in the churches in my district? Well, one possibility has to do with their parents. The median age in the district's population is mid-40s and that is the age group that makes up a large portion of the district. So these folks are primarily baby boomers and many of them are not in church. Since as I said before, many of the churches are made up of parents of baby boomers. It seems that as the parents go, so go the children. There is another conversation to be had about what happened with the transfer of faith from the parents of baby boomers to the baby boomers.

This morning at church, a young man sang a song with his dad. That in and of itself is not that out of the ordinary, but what is remarkable about this young man and primarily this family is that the young man wrote the song after attending his grandfather's funeral. The young man's dad sang the song as the young man played the guitar. The song was about trusting in Christ through pain and loss. This young man is around ten years old or so. I was blown away. The really cool thing was to sit back and think how his grandfather raised his three kids, who are all faithful Christians, and that has trickled down to his grandchildren. It makes me think about what kind of legacy I will leave for Nora and any their other children God may bless Anna and I with. I pray that it is that kind of legacy.

So, bringing it back around, parents have to be in church in order for their kids to be there. Ultimately, parents will stand before Christ and give an account for how or if they raised their kids up to know Him. The youth pastors and pastors of the world will not primarily give an account for how children were brought up in Christ; it is not primarily their job. As a father, it is first my job to raise Nora to know Christ. I am just getting started as a father, so I am far from being an expert and I realize that there are a myriad of challenges for fathers and parents in general in raising children in the faith. I do know however, that the parents' faith has a significant impact.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Statistics on Fairless school district church attendance

Over a year ago, I felt that God was leading me to find out more about the community in which my wife and I live. Our community, Navarre, Ohio is a part of a school district, Fairless Local Schools, which is made up of three small towns: Navarre, Beach City and Brewster. In an effort to understand what God was already up to in the churches in the community, I set out in attempting to get in touch with each of the approximately 25 churches in the community. I asked them for a few small bits of information based on their congregations and asked if I could meet up with the pastor. I was able to meet up with quite a few of the pastors in the community and also received responses from several other churches with the information I requested. There were a few churches that I never heard back from, but I was able to get some basic info about those churches from speaking with others and from their websites or Facebook pages (if they had one or either).

The approximate total population of the school district is 5,100. Of that population, 22% or approximately 1,129 people attend church at churches within the district. I felt that was rather alarming. Of course, you may be asking, where does the rest of the population attend church? I wish I had the time, resources and manpower to find that information, because I am sure that there are other churches outside the district that people attend. However, I am fairly positive that, that would not bring the percentage of church attendance much higher. I am familiar with some of the larger churches outside of the district and know that there are not many people from my school district that attend those churches, but of course I do not have hard data. For those of you that love data and love for it to be precise, just to let you know the 1,129 represents regular attenders as was reported by the pastors of the churches. The few churches that did not respond to me are fairly small congregations and I was able to estimate their average attendance with the help of others familiar with those churches.

I have quite a bit more data that I collected that I will share, but at first glance what does this 22% mean? I feel that it means there is a need and that need is more churches that can help reach the people of my community. This is weighing heavy on my spirit. What is God up to?